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25 February 2008


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Again, the rhetoric from both sides is preposterous. Doesn't the right also engage in this nonsense? The difference is that the right's appeal to voters has been more explicitly moralistic and religious, with appeals to 'Christian' notions of marriage, adoption, etc. and the moral certainty which goes along with it.

At least Obama stands up there and says I understand what the Constitution says, unlike this President. At the risk of over-parsing the Obama rhetoric, I think that 'the hole in our souls' (ugh) is profound cynicism about politics. Of course, "politics" in its pure sense should be considered a high calling, rather than a synonym for cynical machinations. I do not take this soaring stuff from any candidate too seriously, but to the extent to which I take this stuff seriously, I see his goal as restoring some optimism and engagement in politics.

If you are casting this "changing the soul" stuff as some sort of self-help program or a religious calling, then I would say you are mis-reading it.


W. Patrick Lang


I think it is a great mistake to ignore politicians' rhetoric,

The rhetoric of the right is irrlevant. They are going to lose the election.

"Words matter." Who said that recently? pl


Like you, I did not want to be 'changed' by any politician. But Bush changed America. It is no longer the same place as when he took office.

Bush knew that he had the cure for what ailed America and acted on his ideology--occupation of Iraq, massive tax cuts for the top 0.5%, warrantless wiretapping, war profiteering. The essence of his mantra was fear for the many and greed for the few. Bush's cure was worse than whatever disease Bush imagined there was.

Now many Americans are reeling from the Bush years, which is why Obama resonates among so many.
Maybe Obama has a cure for the Bush years. Maybe not. But at least we could use a substantial correction for the disastrous ride Bush took us on.

We have to stop digging deeper into the same hole we're in. And Obama looks like the man most likely to stop the digging.


I grew up in East Asia. Obama reminds me politicians from my home country who appeals emotions only. I have a deep suspicion of anyone who wants to use government to shap citizen lives. Would it possible? Sure, JFK did, but there are ten times more failures. Look at my home state governor Deveal Patrick, who talked almost as good as Mr. Obama, yet once in the office advocated casinos. Media gives a lot of leeways to these great orators, but it is the citizens who suffer the consequence. If Mr. Obama really wants to change, he should advocate limit federal government power. We foreigners who came to this country actually have this romantic view of America as a land of truly free. What we did not realize it was 50 or 60 years ago. Now it is government out of the control, beauracracy,entitlement programs,military spending,etc.

W. Patrick Lang


Maybe he will dig a different hole. pl

frank durkee

Politically we live in a religiously charged rhetorical atmosphere of the right and now the left. If the "common good" is to have any meaning then we all must move a bit beyond our individual and/or collective self interest.

Cold War Zoomie

Actually, I have labored under the burden of the notion that the presidency of the United States was a rather limited job, carefully limited in fact to that which the constitution allows. Perhaps that is no longer true. Perhaps the president is now "king for a while."

To reflect reality, you can remove both the "perhaps". I think your views have not been the majority in this country for a long, long time. And arguments over the power of the presidency have been going strong since our founding. If my memory serves me right, Hamilton was a proponent of a strong Executive and Jefferson was not. We all know who you admire most.

Hamilton won a long time ago by default in my view, thanks to human nature's desire to be ruled by an individual supported by an elite class. If it isn't Jesus, or a sports "role model," or a pop superstar, or the CEO of some multi-national corporate behemoth, it's the President.

I spent the better part of my Saturday morning coffee-drinking time trying to understand the role of leadership in our form of government, and putting it on paper in a cohesive essay. I failed. It became a jumble of contradictory points between theory and fact. Theoretically, and based solely on the Constitution, the best President would be a technocrat who rises through the civil service with excellent corporate leadership skills. He would only apply those leadership skills in the executive branch agencies to execute the laws of the United States as efficiently as possible within the boundaries of the Constitution and Congress' intent. Have we ever had that kind of president?

That's theory. Reality is that we Americans need leaders just like any other peoples. So who should our leaders be? Our Congress-critters should be taking leadership roles for their constituents. But Congressional Dems aren't providing that leadership. So Dems are looking for leadership anywhere they can get it.

But why aren't Congressional Dems providing leadership? Because Democratic voters have not been demanding it hard enough to break through the establishment barriers. So the Democratic voters need to show more leadership in banding together and electing better representatives!

And round and round and round I go.


Col Lang,
You are absolutely right to call me (or others) out when I (we) step over the line when discussing presidential politics. I'm happy that you post on these subjects and invite thoughtful discourse. I'm wondering if not Obama, then who would be the better presidential choice? You are quite skeptical of him. I think skepticism of politicians in general is warranted.

I don't want to misread you, so I ask: Are you advising temperance in general on the Obamamania thing or do you suspect something more concerning in his "change" theme?

Interesting reading of Kristol parsing Mrs. Obama's words into a Republican general election campaign theme. Maybe it'll work.

I see more and more Americans are defaulting on their overextended personal financial obligations. Corporations asking for bailouts and workers laid off, banks writing off debt. In this changing cultural scenario, will the average American "keep the faith" and fight and sacrifice for our overextended political institutions? Personally, I don't think Americans be content to fix things on the margins. The change meme gives Americans an out --political permission to tack a different direction.



I don't believe Obama is really much the "cure" for anything, but that the ailment exists I must insist. No offense, but you are on the comfortable retirement side of life, having been given your chances and made your rewards from your labor. The problem these days is that for kids coming out of grotesquely expensive higher education program (with high amounts of debt), the ability to get a good job and have upward mobility is greatly diminished. Anyone can work at Starbucks, but can you pay off a Ph.D by pushing coffee for $8 a hour? Forget about even dreaming of a house, condo, family, etc. How can they not battle pessimism, apathy, and moral decay? Young people are running like psychotic rats on a wheel just to stay solvent, if they don't drop completely out of the game in frustration.

The American Dream has slammed shut for anyone who wasn't already in the door, and really that is turning this country into an American Nightmare. The center of this cannot hold, without hope and a path to fulfill it, is there an America anymore?

"Those who would make peaceful evolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable."

It's much worse than you think friend. Obama might not be able to put this train back on the tracks (or want to), but at least he isn't acting like everything is still hunky-doory in the USA. That seems to be the best we'll get this election cycle.

Don Bacon

This is the faulty argument that our difficulties are due to our own shortcomings, not those of the politicians who fail to represent us. If only we could shed our cynicism then our estimation of the Congress and the President could rise above twenty percent, and our problems would be over! Peace, medical care, a chicken in every pot -- there would be no limit to the benefits if we were simply to cast our criticality aside and become obedient followers of a chosen few. We should push ourselves to believe and accept our fates at the hands of these Orwellian criminals, she says.

"No man is wise enough to be another man's master. Each man's as good as the next -- if not a damn sight better." -- Edward Abbey

Mad Dogs

It seems the 2008 presidential campaign will be between that of:

"The Mystic vs The Madman."

And like you Pat, I agree the Republicans will lose.

That said, my first preference as a Democrat, was the clear leader John Edwards.

After his exit, I've had to examine the other 2 top Democratic candidates.

Hillary Clinton came next in my analysis.

I can't say that I like Hillary all that much, but I do have a certain amount of respect and regard for her intellect and abilities.

Barak Obama came last in my estimation.

This is based upon the typical things we've all heard/said before:

1. Inexperience - particularly in Foreign Affairs, but also things Domestic.

2. Heavy on rhetoric, but light on substance - Yes, Barak can talk the talk, but the real issue is whether he can walk the walk. I see little in his record to suggest he has the skills to move the levers of power. And of course, talk is indeed cheap.

As I said back in November when he eked out that tiny win in Iowa:

I ask myself, what in the world are these folks smoking? And the answer seems to me, is "Hope-a-dope".

Passion is fine, but it is not a substitute for the ability to actually do things.

You can be passionate about art, but if you can't draw, an artist you'll never be.

When the passion is gone, will there be anything left?


The genius of the Constitution is that a President can't dig us into a hole by himself. Bush's fiasco was fully aided and abetted by politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Much as Obama might want to chart a new course, he will be limited by Congress--unless he can convince America to really throw the bums out. In fact, it's not really very likely that Congress will let the country stop digging us deeper into the hole we're already in, even with Obama in office.

If Obama were to follow Bush's example of a unitary presidency, there would be serious push back, maybe ending the Imperial Presidency forever.

I don't see any major down sides here.


It's strange how Americans with a deep mistrust of Washington and it's politicians seems to trust Barack Obama without a question.

But maybe I'm to cynical to believe in anyone. And the party system is very different in Europe. The US Presidency and Washington politics I'v always understood in the light of separation of powers. In other words even presidents with a popular mandate is controlled by the competing interests of others. GWB being the exception for much of his reign. There seem to be a reality disconnect somewhere. Of course I'm watching the election from across the Atlantic. Maybe I'm missing something.


I wouldn't take Mrs. Obama's rhetoric too literally. She is 43 years old and grew up in the age of emotional expression, e.g., Oprah, Dr. Phil, Melodie Beattie, etc.

I understand that all this touchy-feely stuff leaves a sour taste to those born before 1960. My advice: get over it. There's a whole new post-Vietnam world emerging, and the language is different.

Of course, if Obama is the nominee, the Republicans will throw everything including the kitchen sink at him full force. We should expect that. In fact, we should probably prepare ourselves for the Swift Boat Mullahs for Truth claiming to have worshipped at the same Mosque as Sen. Obama. Blah, blah, blah........

But I honestly don't understand why a smart guy like you, Col. Lang, should dismiss Obama just because he inspires people with his rhetoric. What have you got against hope?

If you want the substance of Obama's policy positions, go to his web site and read them. Those of us who have been around the block a few times are skeptical that he can change politics or business-as-usual in Washington. But geez louise, if the man is making people feel good about America again, why do you want to rain on our parade? There's enough cynicism in this world to last until doom's day.

Tim Ryder

If Senator McCain is elected he will advance the conservative neocon agenda directly. If Senator Obama is elected he will advance the same agenda using his rational of getting along with one another. If Senator Clinton is elected she might actually stop the train.



I DREAM that they come at him this way in the Fall. They will fall flat on their faces. I am under no illusion about the intractability of changing the American govt right now. However that is not the central problem right now....i.e. what comes AFTER Obama is elected. The central problem, the main threat, right now is stopping the GOP from winning the next election. Very little else matters. If creating a 'cause' will accomplish that....I'm all for it. Whether I buy into that cause, all the way, part of the way, or none of the way. I just want to stop the GOP....then we can worry about the rest. And there is, and will be, plenty to worry about.


I DREAM that they come at him this way in the Fall. They will fall flat on their faces. I am under no illusion about the intractability of changing the American govt right now. However that is not the central problem right now....i.e. what comes AFTER Obama is elected. The central problem, the main threat, right now is stopping the GOP from winning the next election. Very little else matters. If creating a 'cause' will accomplish that....I'm all for it. Whether I buy into that cause, all the way, part of the way, or none of the way. I just want to stop the GOP....then we can worry about the rest. And there is, and will be, plenty to worry about.



If there were a smart, sensible candidate who actually spoke English (rather than politician-ese) I would vote for him/her. As it is, that candidate does not exist.

In other words, I see us choosing among candidates guilty of distinct, but equally overreaching, rhetoric. I would not ignore anyone's rhetoric - it matters. I would only place it in context. It is a kind of pick your poison choice. For my part, if Obama "cures" us of our political cynicism, great. Good luck, I say. That is how I interpret his rhetoric.

Is the problem with Obama's rhetoric that it is working? That people buy it? You have written off the GOP . . . is Hillary's rhetoric better? She sure talks a lot about "change" herself now. What are the substantive differences that make HRC a better potential president?



I would agree that some of the rhetoric lends itself to criticism. Obama can still give inspiring speeches, but they need to tighten up their message a bit.

As long as we are going to get real here, however, Hillary has a less than 10% chance of winning this race now. Obama is ahead by more than 150 pledged delegates and she will likely net very few delegates out of Texas. Any slim chance for Hillary to win involves a party-splitting fight two months before the general election. If you want to give the Democratic party its best chance to win in November, it is really too late to be supporting Hillary.


I think this line is priceless: "I, for one, do not wish to be "changed" by any politician. I do not want to have the "hole in my soul" repaired. I do not wish to be forbidden to go on with my own petty little life in my own petty little way."

I like Obama, but I agree that a great American strength is a healthy cynacism about polticians. I am voting for him because he opposed the Iraq War Crime. That is reason enough.


Maybe "Foxhole Bill" Kristol and "Dugout Dave" Brooks will enjoy the change of scenery.

Have we heard from "Jingo Judy" Miller yet?

Such people are without a shred of shame or decency.

(Pure ad hominem stuff but what the hell? And what the hell is going on at the bloody NY Times? Haven't they learned anything?)


Col. Lang, I share your view of presidents. It's an executive job, not a visionary one. I don't mind Obama's rhetoric (I mostly tune it out), I only worry that he doesn't fully grasp how much more is required of a president than the "vision thing." Articulating the hopes and dreams (etc., yadda yadda) was Reagan's strength -- it's the basis of his sainthood among the right. "Fixing the hole in the nation's soul" sounds to me like just another version of "morning in America," just aimed at a different part of the electorate. When I saw how conservatives were trying to turn W into another Reagan-like icon (fat chance of that) I thought that hero worshiping had become the basis of right-wing political culture. Ironic, that the left is just as prone to it as well.

Nancy K

I'm voting for Obama, but not because I feel my soul is broken, however I think politics as usual in the US is broken. I'm sick to death of special interest groups leading our representatives and thusly us around by our noses. Maybe Obama can't fix it. Maybe our Constitution is obsolete as some seem to implay. However I think Obama is the only choice we have albeit not a perfect one.


Sir: I find your negativism towards mr. Obama somewhat pussling. True, he is running on a populist platform, digging into the deep feeling running that something has gone horribly wrong somewhere. But, he has a point, hasnt he? I, too, would like to see him disuss substance a lot more and dampen down the rhetorical flourish, but at the same time, what does mrs. Clinton have to offer? A continuation of the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton cycle stands to many as just a different face on the same machine, push-pull-push-pull. I think mr. Obama is tapping into that deep unrest in the US. that is starting to seep through. The deep unrest that Abu Ghraib, waterboarding and Gitmo has brought about: That you might not always be the guys in White Hats anymore. That something is rotten at the core of the naive american dream seen on television every day.

Now, he might be digging a different hole. But when youre up to your neck in sh&t in your current hole, any other hole looks dry & cozy.


PL: "Maybe he will dig a different hole."

well, possibly, he will. But at least it will be a new hole, perhaps with a better view and perhaps with a way out on the other side.

remember, things always get worse before they get better. (even tho' I keep thinking the country can't possibly get any worse, thanks to our current set of peabrains, I also know that anything's possible)

I can tell that Obama really hits your buttons, Pat. Well, at least his rhetoric does. I'm not a fan of the rhetoric either, BUT I think it wouldn't be healthy for the country to have a continuation of Bush/Clinton/Bush. New blood and all that. My horse is out of this race, so I'm betting on Obama. We could use a Pres that would lead and inspire a new generation. After all, it's their turn to screw things up......

As for your comment: "It is odd that Bill Kristol, Brooks and I are on the same side in this. Odd, but refreshing." I'm sure it pains many of your readers that you would put yourself in these yahoos' company, but every man chooses his own poison--uh, I mean position--and I for one am willing to put up with a whole posting about Bill Kristol (cough, cough) to read all the other interesting, educational, and entertaining stuff you and your posters write.

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